Struggling to stick to an exercise regime? Here’s the thing – it may not be all your fault.
It’s an all too familiar story: we eat too much over the festive period, and then commit to becoming fitter and healthier in January. A couple of months later, those ambitions are mostly lost and it’s likely that we feel guilty for not sticking to our new healthy lifestyle. But research shows that we may not be entirely to blame.
In fact, it seems that genetics may have a part to play in whether or not we are likely stick to that New Year’s resolution.
The study of the human genome (i.e. our DNA and what makes us who we are) has revealed several genes associated with habit formation. Some of the most interesting of these are associated with dopamine receptors. Dopamine is commonly known as the “pleasure” hormone, but when it comes to habits it serves an even more important purpose: it’s shown to increase our willingness to endure things that we don’t enjoy. This means that if you have higher levels of dopamine you are more likely to go back to the gym even if you are not really enjoying it, than someone with lower levels of dopamine.
So we just need more dopamine right?
Fun experiences increase your levels of dopamine, so surely everyone who does a LES MILLS™ workout experiences the magic should come back again and again? Actually no! This is where your dopamine receptors come in. The dopamine receptors are responsible for telling your brain how much dopamine is in your system, which is directly linked to the feelings of being able to handle an exercise session when you don’t really feel like it. So, the more dopamine receptors you have working, the more your body is responsive to the hormone, and it is your genes that mostly control which dopamine receptors are switched on or off (specifically D1 and D2 receptors).
Essentially, if you are that person who, when going to the gym starts to feel like a chore, struggles to get off the sofa, it may not be all your fault: your genes are at least partly to blame.
How much are we controlled by our genes?
This is an ongoing argument, but one thing is certain: genes do not 100 percent control our behavior, which means that there are things are we can do to build the habit of exercise, regardless of genes.